2021 Toyota Venza Limited
TOYOTA’S HAUTE HATCH!
It’s been just over a year since Toyota’s all-new Venza was first introduced. And I’ll have to admit – in this most transparent of environments, just you and me – that I had a where-does-this-fit? moment when first seeing Toyota’s new crossover. At this time last year Toyota had plenty of crossovers, beginning with the subcompact C-HR and extending to its 3-row Highlander. This new Venza seemed to fight for space with Toyota’s RAV-4, and the RAV had more space! But I did like the Venza design, and it seemed to come with Lexus-like appointments at a Toyota-light price.
One year later, and with a week of driving under my (seat)belt, I have a better feel for what the Venza is intended to do, and a better idea of what I might do with it. In a sea of sameness the Venza offers a distinctive – albeit mature – note, and does so in combination with what promises to be acceptable monthlies.
Coincidentally, the Venza arrived as my wife and I contemplate a hybrid crossover for our own driveway. We’re in need of a third car, something to keep in California, where we’re about to enjoy a second granddaughter. We’re thinking midsize crossover, with enough backseat to accommodate the bigger (better?) child seat, while having enough efficiency to offset California’s $4/gallon gas. So if looking for that efficiency you’re probably looking for a hybrid, and the number of those is surprisingly small. We were thinking Honda’s CR-V, and with the arrival of the Venza…well, we’re also thinking Venza.
In the walk-up, I’m impressed by the Venza’s tidiness. In profile or from the rear ¾ view you could almost think Jaguar, as the sheetmetal is cleanly executed – almost organic, and has none of the gimmickry that infests Toyota’s C-HR, or whatever current Lexus you’d care to name. In fact, in most of the design it recalls the earlier Lexus RX, going about its visual business with the quiet certainty that it will attract a customer who knows what she or he wants, perhaps before they even see it. My only complaint is the air intake at the bottom of the front fascia, which as an expanse of almost endless plastic seems either overdone or undercooked; regardless, it doesn’t mesh with the otherwise reserved, mature design details.
Inside, our top-of-the-line Limited features Toyota’s SofTex trim on the seats; the front seats are both heated and ventilated. The ‘premium’ audio is accessed through a 12-inch touchscreen; thankfully, that screen and its offerings are still fairly intuitive. And as you’d know, the whole shebang is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible.
What most impressed behind the wheel is what you feel while behind the wheel. This is a tighter footprint than that offered by the RAV4, and as a result it feels more personal. While ostensibly a five-seater, four will be more comfortable, and the distance between driver and passenger seems smaller – this is more of a business jet than the 737 you’ve been flying. In combination with a steering wheel that feels just about perfect in your hands and a connection to the road that is far more direct than what is typical of a crossover, I’m reminded of a slightly larger, significantly more comfortable hatchback than a carpool crossover.
But then, I also tried it in a carpool and the results were satisfying. The trip to my grandson’s elementary school is about 16 miles over 35 (or so) minutes, taken at speeds between 35 and 65 miles per hour. Little of it is cut and thrust, but the Venza steering and suspension allow you to – if necessary – cut, and the Venza’s hybrid powertrain, when set in ‘Sport’, provides an approximation of thrust. You won’t confuse what’s happening here with what you or I can do with a Golf R, but then, neither did it feel like VW’s larger-than-life-itself Atlas. This is one for the road, if (like me) you’re committed to staying on the road.
With less than 8 inches of ground clearance, you shouldn’t be thinking offroad, but with an EPA estimate of 39 miles-per-gallon combined you can go off the beaten path. The hybrid drivetrain’s 219 combined net horsepower is more than sufficient to propel the Venza’s 3,900 pounds, and while we continue to wish CVT transmissions were a tad more positive in both their physical feel and aural vibe, the Venza’s hookup is better than many.
With all-wheel drive (an electronic on-demand system) standard, the Venza is an all-season crossover. And with the LE and XLE models coming in comfortably under $40K, it offers an accessibility those crossovers on the Lexus side of Toyota don’t.
The CR-V offers more space, while the Venza would seem to offer more style and content. And the decision? That, I’m happy to admit, I’ll leave to my wife; she is, after all, the one paying for it.